Inside Story January 2018

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Compensatory plantation of Trees will not be sufficient to replace loss of ancient well rooted trees in Powai or its neighboring forested areas of the Aarey Colony, which are slotted to come  under the axe for the installation of the Metro routes.

Forests are an important  component to fight climate change and sustain the life support system on Earth. Urban Forests are hard to come by and whether they are government, village or private they represent a community resource that meets the need of the millions of  people. In this case there is direct violation of the very constitution  created to protect wilderness and open spaces, which makes us wonder why it was made into an act which is being more abused than preserved. Article 48A of the Constitution of India requires that the State shall aim to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forest and wildlife of the country. Under Article 51A, it is the duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures. Powai and Aarey forests both boast of being huge  biosphere reserves of the city, a rich habitat of endangered and threatened species of flora and fauna.

Whenever forest land is to be diverted for non-forestry purpose usually the conditions relating to transfer, mutation and declaration, compensatory afforestation are to be imposed. For rail-tracks, mining and excavation purposes additional conditions like maintaining a safety zone area, fencing and regeneration  and for major and medium irrigation projects, catchment area treatment plans are to be stipulated. We do not see these outlined for trespassing through Powai or Aarey forests, even if a plan is in place, where is the extra land for these compensations, is the question?

Compensatory Afforestation involves identification of non forest land or degraded forest Land. Moreover a detailed work schedule, structure of plantation, technical mechanism are to be in place to ensure the utilisation of the compensatory land and monitoring mechanism. Hence, it is one of the most important conditions specified by the Government while approving proposals for de-reservation or diversion of forest land for non-forest use. It is essential that with all such proposals, there is a comprehensive scheme for compensatory afforestation. Plans for artificial regeneration, assisted natural regeneration, protection of forests and other related activities should be prepared and implemented in a time bound manner. But why cut down forests in the first place without environment assessment and public hearing affirmations? It is like saying I will cut down or take away your Grandfather and give you ten grandparents next year? Hah, does it make any sense at all??

(Elsie Gabriel is an award winning post graduate certified Green Teacher and Environmental Law expert. With twenty years of writing experience she has travelled to remote corners of the earth researching, photographing, documenting facts that bind the threads of anthropological wonder. Powai runs in her veins)